Marc van Roechoudt had the best Royal Gala apples at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, Canada
Two Canadian apple growers with deep roots in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley keenly endorse the maxim that the key to prosperity in their industry is the willingness to embrace innovation.
Long-time orchardists Dave Gartrell of Summerland and Marc van Roechoudt of Lake Country, just north of Kelowna, were recognized for their farming prowess with multiple awards in the apple competition at the Royal Winter Agricultural Fair in Toronto, Canada, in November.
"You have to keep up-to-date with the new varieties and planting systems," said Gartrell, 55, who claimed the overall trophy for reserve champion in the new variety section as well as first-place honors for Ambrosia and Aurora Golden Gala varieties. "Otherwise, the best way to make a small fortune in farming is to start out with a big fortune."
Besides Gala and Ambrosia, Gartrell produces Sunrise, Fuji, and Ginger Gold. Honeycrisp and Pink Lady are new varieties he’s trying for 2010. Gartrell is planting at a density of 2,500 trees per acre, which he said suits the climatic conditions where he farms.
Gartrell’s 16-acre Gartrell Heritage Farms is one of the Okanagan’s oldest orchards, founded in 1885 by Gartrell’s great-grandfather James. James Gartrell was an award-winning orchardist himself, garnering awards at fairs in Spokane in 1897 and London, England, in 1905.
Van Roechoudt’s ancestors also paved the way for the growing methods he has embraced. "My father was one of the first to introduce dwarf trees to the valley, and we’ve always worked to modernize the orchard so we don’t get left behind," said van Roechoudt, 73, whose Royal Gala apple was judged best in the commercial variety section and his Ambrosia third in new varieties.
His father, Louis, founded van Roechoudt’s 50-acre Dorenberg Orchards in 1949, when he purchased the property from Marc’s future father-in-law, Jim Goldie, who came to the valley in 1908.
"We have changed methods of growing, going to dwarf trees, high density and newer varieties," said van Roechoudt. "In the old days, we grew cherries, apricots, peaches, and pears. But with overproduction and dwindling returns for the old varieties, we tried a number of new varieties. We changed over to Royal Gala in 1990, and that kind of saved the farm. We’ve had a good run of Gala."
Ambrosia, a Canadian apple that was developed in the Similkameen area 15 years ago, has also proven to be a winner, he said.
"I think it’s the taste and appearance of the apple," van Roechoudt explained. "It does very well in our area. It’s easy to grow and it keeps well. It has multiple picks, which does make it a little more expensive to produce."
Like van Roechoudt, Gartrell switched over to high-density trees in 1990.
"When I started farming in 1978, we had a mixed farm with pretty much all the varieties," he said. "We have the advantage here of having the